Scale Matters: What is Small?

What is the smallest thing you’ve ever seen?

Now, what’s the smallest thing you can imagine?

Imagine something even smaller.

Even smaller.

How about even smaller?

How small is it? How would you measure it? With what units?

This video, narrated by Stephen Fry, has inspired this weeks look at size and scale. Check it out and then come back for more!

   

Woah! A nanometer is pretty tiny! If you recall, my research looks at a specific species of micro-algae, Nannocloropsis salina. These guys are only one cell, and can only be seen under a microscope. How many nanometers across are they?

You’ll have to take my word for it, but the diatom on the left is about 34 um,
while the four N. salina cells are each about 4 um. I can place rulers on the cells individually
within the program, but they don’t save in the image files. Odd!
So these itsy-bitsy, unseen with the naked eye cells are thousands of nanometers wide. The diatom is about 34,000 nanometers long! In fact, both are so big that we measure them in micrometers (µm). 

A look at different size prefixes.
 
Let’s think about this. N. salina is just one cell, and it’s 4,000 nm in diameter. What makes up a cell?
We can break down even this basic building block into molecules and atoms. How big might they be? What can you find inside of an atom? How big are electrons, neutrons, and protons? Can you go even smaller?

Check out this fantastic website for help answering these questions with an iterative, visual module of the universe.

Surely there can’t be many things that are even smaller. Right?

Let’s-a-see. 

Why do we even need to study anything so unbelievably small? 
How big of an impact could they have on us, the giant humans?
We could ask Mr. Owl, over here, but I had better luck searching the web. 
  1. Nanotechnology could enhance environmental quality and sustainability.
  2. Ultrathin and lightweight organic solar cells with high flexibility

  3. And an extra special application that could help with the trip to Mars: The NASA Biocapsule – made of carbon nanotubes – will be able diagnose and treat astronauts in space!

Tune in tomorrow for the continuing saga of Scale Matters!
Question of The Day:
Can you think of any other applications or uses for the extra small objects we learned about?

Reference:
Kaltenbrunner, M., White, M.S., Głowacki, E.D., Sekitani, T., Someya, T., Sariciftci, N.S. & Bauer, S. (2012). Ultrathin and lightweight organic solar cells with high flexibility, Nature Communications, 3  770. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1772

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Scale Matters: What is Small?

  1. I can't find the article right now, but I heard over the weekend that a group of reserachers made the smallest nano (I think nano was the prefix) computer ever inside of a diamond!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s